Young soccer players compete, learn

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Young soccer players compete, learn

Professional soccer teams are constantly looking for hidden gems among youngsters. High school or middle school dropouts are now a norm at the second division of the K-League. Indeed, that minor league has 12 players who quit middle school.
Entering the professional ranks at an early age gives young players an opportunity to move along quickly in a soccer-friendly environment and do it in a very systematic way. Nevertheless, in case of failure to reach the K-League’s first division, these young players, who have little education and no diploma, face the stern task of going back into a society that offers few options to people who have a short history of education.
Last October, Shin Young-rok, 16, quit middle school and opted to play for the Suwon Samsung Bluewings. At the beginning of this year he tore cartilage in his right knee.
Following surgery in Japan in March, Young-rok is undergoing rehabilitation training at the team’s headquarters in Gyeonggi province. “If I were in school, I could not even dream of this,” he says.
Dr. Ahn Byeong-cheol says that college athletes who come to the pros right after graduation often suffer injuries to ligaments and knee cartilage due to murderous schedules and heavy training in school. “The injuries they suffered during their school days often shorten the player’s professional career,” says the physician, who emphasizes that training at a young age has to be in line with the growth rate of a player’s body.
There are eight players on the K-League’s second division Anyang LG Cheetahs who dropped out of middle school. Every Friday all eight head to a mandatory computer class. There they learn how to download and upload documents, surf the Web and other basic skills needed to operate a computer.
In addition, every Monday and Tuesday tutors come to the training facilities to teach the young athletes English for two hours.
Han Woong-soo, LG’s manager, says that the team has started an educational program at the beginning of this year for its young players who have quit school. “We provide them with courses that are suited to their needs.”
All of the young players on the LG roster agree that giving up school and joining the pros at a relatively early age is beneficial. One player pointed out that programs at professional teams are designed to build up the body step by step, rather than force players to digest grueling schedules.
And what about the military? Under the current draft law, to be eligible for the mandatory army service you have to have at least a middle school diploma. The increase in young players who drop out of middle school to join the pros has sparked speculation that pro team scouts encourage youngsters to leave school before graduation so that prospective players won’t need to depart for the armed service during their careers.

by Jeong Young-jae, Choi Min-woo
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